Photos by Chris Todd
Story by Robert Wilson
Texas may be bigger than Mississippi, but Friday night in Madison, Mississippi was better.
Quarterback Zach Beasley completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Davis Dalton and backup kicker Landen McGee kicked the extra point with 7 seconds to play to give Madison-Ridgeland Academy to a 27-26 victory over Trinity (Texas) Christian School in a battle between two private school state championship programs in the season opener for both teams.
On fourth and 8, Beasley threw a bullet to Dalton in the corner of the end zone, just beyond the goal line with a defender closely guarding him, for the winning score. Then, McGee, who replaced Dalton as the kicker earlier in the game, kicked the hold of Ty Brooks through the uprights for the winning point. Trinity ran back to the kickoff to the 35 and quarterback Shadeur Sanders threw a desperation heave on the last play, but MRA’s Hayes Puckett intercepted it at the MRA 35 to end the game.
MRA came into Friday’s game as the defending MAIS Class 6A state champion after defeating Jackson Prep 48-33 to end Prep’s seven-year title run. MRA was scheduled to play host to Briarcrest Christian from Memphis, but Tennessee wouldn’t allow high school teams to play football yet due to coronavirus restrictions. So MRA coach Herbert Davis went searching for an opponent and found Trinity, which was 40-2 over the past three years and won the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Division II championship for the past three seasons. Sanders is the son of NFL Hall of Famer Deion “Primetime” Sanders, who is also the offensive coordinator. The game was originially scheduled to be played in Shreveport, but Louisiana isn’t allowing any games to be played yet either so Trinity agreed to come to Mississippi. They bussed six hours Friday and arrived in Madison in mid-afternoon.
Davis was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year last season after guiding MRA to a 12-2 record and his fourth state championship and first at MRA. He wanted to find good competition in his opener. He did and he was proud of his players rallying to pull off the victory.
“We have lots of heart,” Davis said.
“We found out that no matter who the competition is we have to play our game and even though their talent may be better we have to play with more heart,” MRA’s defensive leader, junior linebacker Stone Blanton, said.
Davis found out he has a gritty quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Beasley started half of the season for Northwest Rankin last season and transferred to MRA in January. He replaced MRA’s record-setting quarterback Phillip Short, who passed for 3,545 yards and 37 touchdowns, including a Mississippi record 593 yards and five TDs in the championship win over Prep. Beasley, in his first start at MRA, completed 14 of 28 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. But the biggest throw was the final one to Dalton. On fourth and 8.
“Zach made big plays when it counted,” Davis said.
Davis found out he was a clutch receiver after losing his top five receivers, including Joe Perkins, who is playing at Florida International. Four of those receivers caught passes for at least 100 yards each in the state championship win over Prep. Dalton, a 6-3, 180-pound junior, caught a team-high six passes for 146 yards and three TDs, including the clutch one that tied the game, in first career start.
“Davis had a big time performance,” Davis said. “He had some big catches and really dominated.”
Davis found out that Blanton is even better than he was last year. Blanton — a Mississippi State baseball commitment who has received more than a dozen Division I football offers from Power 5 Conference schools like Oregon, Michigan State, Virginia and five SEC schools – was everywhere against Trinity. The 6-2, 220-pound Blanton, rated as one of the Top 25 junior inside linebackers in the country, made tackles it seemed on almost every play.
“Stone was the best player on the field,” Davis said.
Sanders came into Friday night’s game highly touted, not only because he is the son of a NFL Hall of Famer, but also because he had incredible stats and was offered by Division I schools from all over the country before verbally committing to Florida Atlantic. Sanders passed for 3,477 yards and 47 TDs with only four interceptions last season. Sanders completed 19 of 27 passes for 204 yards and two TDs and ran for one score Friday night.
MRA rallied from a 20-7 deficit in the third quarter. Beasley completed a 34-yard TD pass to Dalton to cut the lead to 20-13 with 7:20 to go in the quarter. Then MRA senior running back Rayf Vinson, who missed half of last season with a knee injury, scored on an 8-yard run and McGee added the extra point for a 20-20 tie with 7:36 to go in the game. Trinity took a 26-20 lead with 5:21 to play. MRA’s Tylor Latham blocked the extra point attempt, which proved to be one of the biggest plays in the game.
After Beasley threw an interception in the end zone with 2:26 to play it appeared MRA’s chance for a win were gone. But Trinity fumbled and MRA senior strong safety Sam Polles recovered on the Trinity 12 with 1:42 to play to set up Beasley, Dalton and McGee’s heroics in the final seconds.